Treaty Eight – The Cree, Beaver and Chipewyan in the Northwest
i. Why was a treaty required in this time and place?
A treaty was required in 1899 in the Lake Athabasca area in the former Northwest Territories because of the impending rush of settlers after the Klondike gold rush. A treaty was required as there were many Aboriginal peoples living there, and their rights had to be taken into consideration.
ii. What First Nations were included in this treaty?
The First Nations groups included in Treaty Eight were from two major Aboriginal language families. One of those being the Crees, the other being the Athapaskans, or the Dené, who included the Chipewyan, Beavers, Slaveys, Dogribs, and Yellowknives.
iii. What did these people want from the treaty process?
Some of the biggest concerns of the aboriginal delegates during the negotiations for Treaty 8 were maintaining their peoples’ hunting, fishing, and trapping rights. James K. Cornwall, known as Peace River Jim, suggested that the First Nations delegates emphasized that they would not sign the treaty unless it assured that their hunting, fishing and trapping rights were guaranteed. There were also concerns about being confined to reserves. The Metis involved in the treaty had an issue with scrip offered for land; the government offered non-negotiable and non-transferable scrip, which the Metis strongly protested, convincing the government to offer transferable scrip.
iv. What did the government want from the treaty process?
Because of the Klondike Gold Rush, which began in the mid-1890s, many Europeans began to move north into present day northeastern B.C., northern Alberta and northwest Saskatchewan; land which was then undisturbed. Because of the sudden immigration of Europeans, there was much contact and conflict that rose between the Natives to the land and the newcomers, which lead to the Government of Canada to create Treaty 8. Here, the government wanted to control and protect the land in these provinces, which the Natives originally had claim over, and to ensure the role of the North West Mounted Police in the region.
v. What were the treaties core provisions?
Treaty Eight is made up of many core provisions that were meant to facilitate a peaceful relationship between the aboriginals, settlers and the government of the Dominion of Canada.
The first set of core provisions dealt with land. Treaty eight is a land surrender document to transfer the land involved to the Dominion of Canada and open it up for settlement. The Canadian government sought to open the region up to “trade travel, immigration, mining and lumbering”.
The second set of core provisions was for the creation of reserves. The treaty stated that any band that wished to live on a reserve had the right to do so. The size of the reserve would be in proportion to the number of people. There was to be one square mile of reserve land for every five people who wished to live on the reserve.
The third set of core provisions related to the aboriginal’s way of life. The treaty reassured the bands of there rights to hunt and fish as they always had but added that these activities could be regulated by the “government in the area”. The treaty also sought to change there life style by giving each band and chief farming equipment and animals to work with, the goal being a transition to a settled agricultural society. The government also promised to pay for the schooling of aboriginal children to the standards of off reserve schools.
The fourth set of provisions were for compensation. The government sought to compensate the peoples whose lands were being taking by paying them a one time payment of between $12 and $32 depending on there social standing in aboriginal society. The government then promised to pay between $5 and $25 each year, depending on there role in bands society.
vi. What is the status of the treaty today?
Treaty Eight continues to have relevance in the Canadian West, even a hundred years after it was originally signed. First Nations bands are still grouped together according to the treaty provisions, such as the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta and the Treaty 8 First Nations of British Columbia. Furthermore, bands continue to sign on to the treaty, like the McLeod Lake Indian Band did in BC in 2000. Treaty Eight has also gotten press because of a high-profile 1992 federal court case, where a Cree man objected to paying income tax. He cited Treaty Eight’s provisions to support his case, and had a successful ruling in 2002. Though the decision was eventually overturned, this case demonstrates that Treaty Eight, and the numbered treaties in general, still have relevance today and their provisions are taken seriously in Canada.
http://www.gov.bc.ca/arr/firstnation/treaty_8/default.html – Information from the Government of British Columbia on the Treaty Eight Peoples of that province.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/aboriginals/treaty8.html – A short informative article on Treaty Eight done by the CBC
http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028805/1100100028807 – A guide to Treaty 8 put out by the Government of Canada Dept. of Aboriginal Affairs ad Northern Development.
Dennis F.K. Madill, “Treaty Research Report – Treaty Eight 1899.” http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028809/1100100028811
Government of Canada, . Early Canadiana Online, “Indian Treaties and Surrenders From no.281 to no.483.” Last modified 2013. Accessed January 23, 2013. http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_02042/347?r=0&s=1.
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